In fact, at the Little Bird boutique in Aspen, which opened last summer, owner Keele Loyd often finds herself assisting the same clients over and over, from the high school girl consigning (or in search of) a Marc Jacobs dress to the well-preserved local matron eyeing a J. Mendel fur. “I can’t believe the range of clients I have, and how often they come in,” says Loyd. “It’s much more acceptable nowadays to get rid of stuff.” The well-heeled regulars at these stores, obsessive sellers and buyers whom Garkinos affectionately refers to as “Norms” (“Remember Norm from Cheers?” he asks. “Always coming in?”), may find consigning both more frugal and, ultimately, more adventurous than the average trip to Neiman Marcus. “I like the hunt,” says L.A. jewelry designer Linda Hodges, a Decadestwo regular. “There are pieces you might not have seen in the big stores, or samples celebrities may have gotten. It makes it more interesting.”
Differentiating themselves from vintage boutiques, consignment stores typically stock merchandise from the past two seasons, although they will sell decades-old items from certain labels, such as Hermès and Chanel. “People can’t get enough Birkin bags and Chanel jackets,” says Fluhr of Michael’s. But what of those trend-seeking clients, many of whom work in the entertainment and fashion industries, where starting salaries can barely snag a decent one-bedroom rental let alone a quilted Chanel? “For the girls who [want to] keep up fashionwise, consignment has become very useful,” contends Ina Bernstein, the co-owner of five Manhattan consignment shops bearing her forename. At one of her stores, a new Marni patent-leather tote, which currently retails for $1,620, is $1,250, which a manager estimates would get the consignor about $575; a beat-up Balenciaga motorcycle bag, possibly lugged around for years, will go for $250 and net a seller about $120. “There are more women involved in what’s happening, and to get the money to buy the new things, they consign the big labels. They bring in one Marc Jacobs bag [to sell], get the check, and go use the cash to buy the next It bag. Then we have a lot of customers who don’t get checks. They just get a credit…they reshop here. It’s all quite practical.”
Motivated by a desire to stay current, these fashion followers’ strategy is stealthy but not exactly simple: A woman will buy, for instance, a 3.1 Phillip Lim tunic for around $595 at retail and wear it a few times. Then, realizing it may have a short shelf life, trendwise, she consigns it at a store like Ina, where it can be sold for about $375, leaving her with about $175. The dress is priced high because it is current season, and Ina earns more than 50 percent of the sale.